Why study Italian? Why not?
In a world that continues to grow ever smaller and closer together, and where English is spoken ever more widely, learning another language is sometimes deemed a lesser priority, or even superfluous altogether. Often, when people do decide to learn a foreign language, it is for “practical” reasons: learning Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic is often seen as advantageous, as it seems wise to learn a language that is growing in terms of global cultural and economic influence.So how do you refute parents or teachers or anyone who says that studying Italian isn’t worth it? “Where is that going to lead you?” they’ll ask; or, “Why don’t you learn a language that you can actually use?” As an Italian tutor in NYC, I hear this sometimes. These might seem like valid questions at first, but don’t let them discourage you. There are a ton of good reasons to study Italian. If you’re studying Italian, or are thinking about starting, whether it’s because of family heritage, or intellectual curiosity in a particular area, or a love of pizza or pasta or Marcello Mastroianni – any and all of these are completely valid, by the way – here are a few reasons to try it, or stick with it, that can strengthen your resolve and help convince others that studying Italian is worthwhile. Moreover, it’s wonderful!
Culture is important! And Italian culture is incredibly rich.
Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch. Giotto, Botticelli, Caravaggio. Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti. And these names, of course, don’t even make up the tip of the iceberg. Sure, you can visit the Galleria degli Uffizi and understand a lot about Renaissance painting from a tour. You can read famous Italian literature in translation and still enjoy it – even fall in love with it. And you can watch important Italian cinema with subtitles. But the great beauty – la grande bellezza – of learning a language is the way it brings you closer to, and often inside of, a culture. The Inferno can come alive in translation, but understanding even some of the Italian and being able to pronounce it out loud can help you see (and hear) the true brilliance of Dante’s terza rima and his incredible linguistic deftness. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is wondrously beautiful on its own, but it takes on a whole new meaning if you know even just a wee bit more about the artist’s history and visual vocabulary, or about late-Renaissance Florence, or Medici arts patronage. Italian cinema will really come alive if you can move beyond the subtitles and parse out some of the jokes, exclamations, and slurs that are lost in translation. Studying Italian can move you that much closer to the incredible wealth of Italy’s cultural patrimony.
Who says studying Italian isn’t practical?
Sure, at around 85 million speakers worldwide, Italian isn’t exactly the most widely spoken language. But Italy’s economy still ranks in the top 10 globally based on GDP, and the country has long been known for its strength in business and commerce, industrial and fashion design, the automobile industry, and, of course, its robust export economy. Italian speakers outside of the peninsula can find jobs in teaching, translating, interpreting, and the fine and performing arts, among many other fields. And even if Italian isn’t directly related to your line of work, if you’re one of the many people who have dreamed of spending a month, a year, or many years living in the Tuscan hills (and who hasn’t?), you’re going to need to speak Italian. Italy isn’t Scandinavia; English is not nearly as widespread there.
Life’s a journey, not a destination. It’s the same with learning another language!
This third and final point echoes the first. Learning a language that is not your own brings you closer to a culture, a people, a heritage, and a history – or even several or many of each of these. For this reason, rather than considering where learning a language might get you, or what kinds of economic or career opportunities it might open up for you, think first about the journey it will lead you on: the books you will read, the things you will learn, the trips you will take, the people you will meet, the different ways in which your brain will learn to function. These, above all, are the best reasons to learn Italian. For learning Italian, like learning any other language, is in itself not only a worthwhile but an extremely important undertaking for all of these reasons. Learning Italian can deepen your understanding of ancient Roman history, or Renaissance painting and sculpture, or European Romanticism, or the way regional cultures operate and interact within one unified nation-state, or Fascism and post-war democracy, or contemporary politics in the Eurozone. But most importantly, it can help you better understand yourself and the world around you.
For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our Italian and other Language tutors in NYC, Boston, and online italian tutors: How a Dictionary Can Make Your Life Easier, Is Learning Chinese Really Worth It?, and How to Learn a Language From Your Living Room